IN 1974, Galway County Libraries set up a service for the blind and visually impaired to allow them enjoy the benefits of the library. It was modelled on one already provided by the National Council for the Blind and Galway remains the only public library in Ireland to provide it. It is totally free of charge.
The blind or visually impaired person can become a member by calling the library headquarters in Island House (091 - 562471 ) and registering. The borrower is sent an extensive list of audio books from which s/he can make a selection and the books are sent directly to him/her.
The borrower is allowed an extended length of time before being required to return the books, via a special label (enclosed with every audio book sent out ), and dropping it into the letterbox. As the librarian gets to know the individual taste of the borrower, s/he will select another title and automatically send it to the customer. The books are sent by post and as it is ‘material for the blind’ the postage is free.
The postal service is the crucial link between the library and its members. Not only does it deliver the books gratis, it means subscribers living alone in remote areas can have access to the service. For some, the postman is their only daily human contact with the outside world and membership ensures at least one friendly knock on the door.
These are the facts, but they go nowhere close to describing the real value of this service. Some comments from users indicate just what it means to them. A borrower from Roundstone said: “I do not know what I would do only for the tapes. When a packet comes, it’s like Christmas Eve every time.” Another borrower said: “Many thanks for all your help and kindness. I am delighted I found you, it means so much. Enclosed is a small gift as a token of appreciation.” The gift was a packet of biscuits.
Perhaps the most telling of these responses is the one from the woman who used the service well into her nineties. She had suffered many hardships during her long life including a personal battle with cancer, but during all this she remained a regular user of the service and her many comments are informative:
“Thank you for the books – they have saved my life!”, and, “I have always been an avid reader and when I went so suddenly blind and unable to read I was desperate so it was really wonderful to have these books.” Again: “I am immensely grateful for the books which make all the difference to my now boring life!”
A five minute conversation with Sharleen McAndrew, librarian and the ‘godmother’ of this vital service will give some idea of what it means to the librarians who do so much to make it happen. Her warmth and deep humanity is indicative of her commitment, and that of her colleagues, to the public they serve. Asked what this service meant to her and the Galway County Library Service, she said:
“To know that even though someone’s sight has failed or that someone has various stages of visual impairment, to understand the needs of someone who is elderly, disabled through accident or illness, or that someone may have reading difficulties, to realise that the joy of books is still something that they can get great pleasure and comfort from makes this job so rewarding. Knowing that you can make a difference to somebody’s life, that you can help enrich the lives of people, by providing them with a direct delivery of audio books to and from their homes is truly a special thing.”
Indeed it is, and in the 40th year of this extraordinary service the Galway County Library service and the Galway Postal service deserve our deepest thanks.